Didn't quite get away with it ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Didn't quite get away with it

A Perfect Getaway
My rating:

Holy frijole, it's been a lousy September at the movies. Bad enough I had to watch two crappy Malay films, every other film I watched this month has been pretty blah as well. There hasn't been a genuinely good watch at the cinemas since Up, and I was really hoping A Perfect Getaway would be it. It's at least a competently-put-together production, which is sheer relief after Jin Notti, lemme tell ya.

But genuinely good? Nnnnnnot quite.

Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds on honeymoon in Hawaii. As they embark on the remote hiking trail to a secluded beach, they come across two other couples - Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton), and Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). Kale is frighteningly foul-tempered, and Nick's Special Forces background intimidates the less macho Cliff. Suspicions begin to run high when they hear news of the murder of another newlywed couple - and the suspects are a man and woman.

I like David Twohy. After making his name as screenwriter of The Fugitive, Waterworld and GI Jane, he went into directing small, smart genre films like The Arrival, Below, and Pitch Black. He had a shot at creating a big-budget sci-fi franchise in The Chronicles of Riddick, which sadly wasn't a huge hit; now it's one of those movies in which the sequel is forever rumoured to be in development. (I enjoyed it.) I'm all for writers who ventured into directing so as to retain greater creative control over their own scripts, so I really wanted to like this movie. And I generally did, but... well, that "but" is what forces me to knock that half-star off my rating.

Let's talk about what the movie did right first. Great suspense. Solid acting. Terrific writing craft. For the most part, it's a movie that grabs you and never lets your attention slip. Gorgeous Hawaiian scenery too. And since the plot is that of a whodunit - or rather, "whodoinit" - misdirection is key. Films like these work like a 90-minute magic trick; it fools us into believing one thing, then reveals that the truth was something else all along. And it works quite well. I certainly didn't see the twist coming, because the misdirection was done so well that I bought into it hook, line and sinker. (Although my first reaction to the reveal was that it cheated, but I don't think it did. Twohy is too sharp a writer not to have verrrry carefully covered his bases in the early scenes, as I'm sure a second viewing would make clear.)

Where it went wrong? Was a 10-minute flashback that labouriously reveals everything that the film carefully hid from us, and there's just too much of it. It doesn't just tell us who the killers are and what they were up to all along, it also attempts some major heavy lifting in terms of exposition and character development - and it comes waaaay too late in the movie for that. This is structurally unsound. Clearly, what happened is Twohy fell prey to the typically writerly conceit of getting too enamoured of his own cleverness. This becomes more apparent given the fact that Cliff is a Hollywood screenwriter, and there are several wink-wink mentions in the dialogue of red herrings and act 2 twists.

What happens next is standard action-thriller stuff - well-executed, still suspenseful, but not quite as effective as it should have been (because we're still scratching our heads trying to work out the reveal). And then there's a climactic fight scene that's pretty much made of WTF. It involves a character who suddenly became stupid enough to almost fall for a trick that would've gotten him killed. I could forgive Twohy breaking the rules of structure, but - to paraphrase a movie quote that gets a shoutout in this film - what we've got here is a failure to think.

I mentioned solid acting, and there really is lots of it here. Zahn gets to take a break from his usual goofy sidekick roles, and plays a character you can root for. Jovovich also plays a character that's more real and likable than all the Action Girls she's done, and shows hitherto untapped range. The other performances are all impeccably effective, including newcomer Sanchez. They're all invaluable in making the first half of the movie work.

But ultimately, even if everything about it had worked, all you'd have is a formulaic, run-of-the-mill guess-the-killer thriller that's been done countless times before. I can respect Twohy for wanting to make something small and effective, but I thought he'd have more ambition than that. A movie like this couldn't get more than three stars from me even if it had been perfect. And it's not. Sorry, Mr. Twohy; I'll be back for your next one.

Update: Rating revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.

Anticipation level: looking forward to it

(There are spoilers in the comments thread. Beware!)


McGarmott said...

Structurally unsound - or just unconventional? It works, despite its length, and it really helped in transferring all our sympathies towards C+C to N+G, and the scenes within the montage itself aren't boring, with each one contributing not just to explain the reveal but also lots of emotional backstory too.

Which character became stupid in what way in the climax? All worked out well what.

I don't know about you but I value the ability of filmmakers to do something simple or small in a highly effective or intensely dramatic way. These days, 99% of the time directors can't even do just that.

TMBF said...

> It works, despite its length, and it really
> helped in transferring all our sympathies
> towards C+C to N+G

It tried, but I thought it didn't really work - it was just too much, too late.

During the climax, when Cliff/Rocky tried to goad Nick into killing him - Nick knew the police sniper had his sights on him. He knew they'd shoot him if they saw him kill a man in cold blood. And Nick was never shown to be easily provoked. He should never have even almost fallen for it.